The RBC® Black History Month Student Essay Competition

Defining Canada

Canada as a country has developed and grown since its constitution in 1867 with the help of many outstanding individuals. Among the ranks of these people there have been many black Canadians that have helped to define Canada as a nation, and still continue to help Canada develop and prosper. With a culture so rich there is no question as to whether or not black people have impacted Canada's history.

In school we are often taught the names of a few pivotal people who forever changed the history of black people such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but too often we forget about the many people who fought for freedom and helped build our nation. Their faces have been pushed back among the shadows and their incredible tales of courage and determination have slipped through the cracks of our nation's history.

For example, Thornton and Lucy Blackburn demonstrated what it truly means to persevere through trials and tribulations, and work for the betterment of our country. They were an escaped slave couple from Kentucky that tried to build a new life in Canada. While working as a waiter at Osgoode Hall, Thornton observed that Toronto's transportation system was seriously lacking in comparison to the more elevated systems of Montreal and Detroit. Although he was illiterate, Blackburn managed to obtain blueprints of a cab from Montreal and he proceeded to commission the construction of his very own. Blackburn successfully launched Toronto's first cab company essentially creating the cornerstone of Toronto's transportation system.

It is important that Canadians recognize people like this not only for their own personal struggles, but because they are emblematic of so many other undocumented struggles. On a much larger worldwide front there are also very many Canadians that have impacted the world, including Michaëlle Jean, not only Canada's first woman Governor General, but also Canada's first black Governor General. Throughout her career Michaëlle Jean has been an active philanthropist and has spent seven years working in shelters for abused women in Quebec. As Governor General she was not only the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed forces, but she promoted unity and culture within Canada. She continues to serve as an inspiration for many youth.

Like all history, black history provides us with a clear sense of where we have been and how far we've come. It gives us inspiration to be as great as or even greater than our predecessors. The black experience in itself is somewhat paradoxical. It holds the memories of a terrible age, but also the promise of a much brighter future. Canada has only become what it is today because of the people that helped build it.

Katura Gibb, 16
Grade 12, St.Marguerite D'Youville